Earlier this week the AP released their first poll of the season, and unsurprisingly Ohio State is number one. Somewhat surprisingly the Buckeyes are the unanimous number one team. This is the first time in the history of the AP poll the pre-season #1 team has been a unanimous selection. After winning the national championship last year in the college football playoff, the Buckeyes should be number one. In fact, the entire poll should look exactly like it did at the end of last season.
Nothing has changed for Ohio State since they walked off the field champions against Oregon. They haven’t lost any games; they haven’t won any games. It’s not just Ohio State; it’s true for everyone. No one has played any games, but for some reason we decide to penalize some teams and give others an undeserved windfall.
Proponents of a preseason poll argue that the Ohio State team that won the national championship is not the same team who is being selected number one now. They may have many similar players, but they have lost some and gotten some new ones. Of course that is correct; for every team this year’s team is new and different. However, the fact that the teams aren’t the same is a reason we should be using last year’s rankings rather than making up new ones.
If we don’t have new preseason polls and just use the final rankings from last year, we will be giving the 2015 teams the advantages or disadvantages the 2014 versions earned. If we do create a new preseason poll we will not mimic last year’s results; instead we will reward programs and conferences who have been historically good or have good reputations or off season hype. We will give 2015 teams credit for accomplishments that may have happened before they were alive.
How is a new preseason poll going to be more correlated to historical success than last year’s success? Look at the polls. Who gained the most? Who came out of nowhere to be rewarded for their off season workouts? It’s the teams who have the best reputations. The teams who have historically been so strong.
Everyone knows about Notre Dame. They are clearly a college football blue blood, and they are always a popular pick. “Is Notre Dame back” is a constant question each pre-season. Last season, they finished the season unranked. After an entire off season of amnesia and hype (and a transfer out of their starting quarterback) the Irish are now #11. That’s quite the improvement. All teams have question marks coming into the season, but the better the historical reputation the more likely you are to get the benefit of the doubt, like Notre Dame.
The hype isn’t just in South Bend. It’s about the SEC, too. Another 5 loss team from last year had a fantastic off season. Auburn finished #22 in the final AP poll and finds itself #6 this year. LSU, another 5 loss team, is now at #14. Six! loss Arkansas is now #18, and six loss Tennessee is #25.
Then there are the other teams, who aren’t viewed as powers or aren’t running trendy offenses or didn’t have a high profile recruiting class, who get penalized over the off season. Georgia Tech finished 11-3 with win away over rival Georgia. The Yellow Jackets finished #8 last season, and Georgia was #9. This year the Yellow Jackets will start at #16, while Georgia stayed at #9.
Another poor victim of not being as much of a perennial power or not having a great offseason is Mississippi State. Last year’s 10-3 finish and the return of the best quarterback in the SEC doesn’t get them in the Top 25. Apparently the SEC’s reputation wasn’t strong enough to pull the Bulldogs in the poll.
Voters will tell you that they choose the teams they think are going to be the best and put them in that order. If they don’t there’s an even bigger problem. But the poll shouldn’t be a beauty contest or conjecture. It should be the result of what happened on the field. It’s the difference between trying to pass the eye test and guess who might beat whom and trying to determine who is more deserving.
The best poll of the year is always the last poll. It’s the one where every team has its entire resume complete. It’s the one where we know something about which teams are better than others, and it is the result of fixing the poor offseason hype and historical strength that get interjected into the pre season poll.
Every year the same cycle continues. We’ll play 4 months of football games to determine a champion and the rest of the rankings. Then we’ll spend 8 months speculating and surmising, projecting and pontificating until we will take all of the on field results and mix them together with feelings and memories to create next year’s preseason poll. It’ll take another 4 months to fix those issues. Around and around we go. But hey, if your team loses 6 games this year, they could still start in the Top 25 next season.